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2005 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 11, No. 1
December 2005

Will MRS Have a Positive Effect on Father Involvement in NC?

North Carolina is currently in the midst of a significant effort to reform its child welfare system. Called the Multiple Response System (MRS), this effort combines a set of core values with seven practice strategies to give child welfare workers a new way of approaching families, involving them in case planning, and identifying and strengthening their support systems.

Like other states involved in system reform right now, North Carolina hopes these changes will make our child welfare practice more consistent, effective, and family-centered.

However, as we have discussed, there are societal and systemic pressures that work against the inclusion of fathers in child welfare practice. Will MRS really make father involvement a basic part of family-centered practice in North Carolina?

What Child Welfare Workers Say
In fall 2005, as part of a course offered by the Jordan Institute for Families at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Social Work, we asked 29 child welfare workers and supervisors and family support workers from eight North Carolina counties what impact they thought MRS will have on father involvement in our state.

In general, workers and supervisors thought the effect would be positive. One worker even described MRS as “a breath of fresh air in a helping culture which in some ways has grown cold and stale.” Here are some of specific ways course participants thought MRS helped engage fathers.

Family Assessment Response. MRS’s family assessment response allows agencies to respond to some types of maltreatment reports in a more supportive, less blaming, less adversarial way. Several participants said they believed this approach empowers fathers because it allows families to set the time for their first meeting with the worker and encourages them to be involved in creating plans for their children. One person called this practice “more family friendly and less intrusive.”

Participants also suggested the family assessment response lowers fathers’ anger and resistance. One said, “I believe MRS’s policy giving agencies permission to involve everyone up front before interviewing children seems to help counter dad’s desire to ‘protect his kids’ from the mean ol’ social workers and gives back a little of the control.”

Child and Family Team Meetings (CFTs). MRS strongly encourages the use of structured, facilitated meetings with every family because they help bring family members together to create a plan that ensures child safety and meets the family’s needs.

Participants appreciated the way these meetings helped identify and connect the family to additional supports. They said that CFTs allow “a greater role for all family members,” including paternal family members, and that expanding the circle to include extended family can hasten progress. One said, “The family can put pressure on itself [to change] far more than any service worker ever could.”

An obstacle identified around CFTs was that the meetings tend to focus “on who the mother or immediate caregiver wants to invite. The facilitator or case worker must spend time [explaining] why inviting the father would be beneficial. Workers are not trained in [this].”

In-home Services. Workers also said they believe MRS’s emphasis on involving family members in the creation and monitoring of the family plan promotes father involvement. As one worker explained, “With MRS you do the case plans together. . . developing a case plan without [including fathers] can make them feel inferior in their family—a big problem.”

Few Safety Concerns
We also asked participants how their agencies defined situations in which father involvement would be detrimental to the child or other family members. They recognized that domestic violence and substance abuse were cause for concern and agreed that under MRS the safety of the child and others is always the first concern. Participants said that even if domestic violence and paternal substance abuse are present, their agencies continue to work with fathers. Their strategies for doing this include involving the father separately from the rest of the family, continued visitation with the children (if safety permits), and providing needed services, especially treatment and counseling.

Conclusion
Don’t get the wrong impression from this article. Although the child welfare professionals we spoke with had plenty of good things to say about the impact MRS was having/might have on father involvement, they do not think the problem is solved. Most agree with the person who said, “We have a long ways to go.”

But most would also agree MRS has us headed in the right direction. As one person put it, “If we continue to do things the same way, we will continue to get the same results. It’s time to think out of the box. Hopefully, MRS will bridge this gap.”

To learn more about MRS, visit <www.dhhs.state.nc.us/dss/mrs>.